Native to warm and humid tropical regions, bananas are the long, curved fruits of herb plants in the Musa genus. They have tough outer peels that may be yellow, red, green or black and a soft, creamy inside flesh that may be white, yellow or pink.
Picked and shipped when green, bananas are unlike other fruits in that they actually develop a better flavor when ripened off the bush. They are a favorite for eating out of hand, but their mild, yet distinct flavor makes them a great addition to salads, frozen treats, baked goods and cooked side dishes.
While there are more than 500 banana species in the world, the familiar yellow Cavendish is the one most favored by North American and European consumers. A cousin to the Cavendish is the Baby banana, a smaller variety with a sweeter flavor.
Specialty stores and Latin markets may also carry more exotic varieties that offer different tastes and textures. These include the strawberry-apple infused Manzano, the lemony Burro, the chunky, raspberry-flavored Red and the sweet, creamy Blue Java (or Ice Cream banana).
The Plantain is a large, firm variety also referred to as "cooking banana." Extremely popular in Latin American countries and parts of Africa, Asia and India, plantains have a mild, squash-like flavor. They are typically cooked when green, and used very much like potatoes as a vegetable side dish.
To eat soon, choose plump, evenly yellowed bananas with tiny brown flecks (a sign of ripeness). Otherwise buy bananas that are still green at the tips and along the ridges. These will need a few days to ripen at home.
Store bananas uncovered at room temperature. To speed-ripen green bananas, place them in a perforated brown paper bag and let sit for a day or two.
Overripe bananas can be stored in the refrigerator for several days. The skin will turn brown, but the inside flesh will stay the same.
- Add banana slices to salads and desserts right before serving to retain their color and texture.
- Brush peeled, sliced bananas with lemon juice to keep them from browning.
- Blend bananas into icy smoothies and milkshakes or hot beverages like cider and cocoa.
- Dip in honey, yogurt, caramel, peanut butter or melted chocolate.
- Freeze bananas whole and eat like a popsicle.
- Mash overripe bananas with lemon juice (one teaspoon for each) and freeze in an airtight container. Defrost and add to quick breads, puddings and cocktails.